Enter The Gates of Paradise

Key West, & The Gates Hotel

Pack your bags, fill up your gas tank, and hit the road! This summer, embark on an extraordinary vacation without even leaving the state! I stayed at The Gates Hotel in Key West for a weekend to show you how to make the most out of Florida’s very own special island!

Us Floridians who have taken the almost four-hour drive to Key West can all agree on one thing: it’s very much worth it. The southernmost point of the U.S. is a unique treasure in Florida, with to-die-for seafood, a whole street of partying and good eats, some of the most breathtaking ocean views, and of course, all of those roosters strutting around! There’s truly no place like it in The States!

I drove my family and I over the bridge and into Key West as we excitedly reached our destination: The Gates Hotel. I couldn’t help but notice its convenient and scenic location—a dreamy view of the water is right across from the hotel, and the drive to any Key West attraction is about 10-15 minutes away. The hotel staff welcomed us with open arms as we checked in at the front desk. The whole site has a laidback vibe, allowing you to truly feel as if you’re on “island time.”

In the rooms, original photography of idyllic beachscapes are framed above beds, and a sliding smooth black bathroom door leads you into the bright, sleek bathroom. We hauled our bags up to our room, “The Lifestyle” Double Queen, and settled in. The room comes with a view of the pool, an HD TV, a bathrobe, a coffee maker with complimentary coffee, a mini fridge, and more.

After unpacking our bags, we set out to tour the rest of the homey hotel. The sparkling blue pool immediately had my attention drawn as I suddenly felt the hot Florida sun on my back, but first— drinks!

Rum Row
Rum Row

The property’s Prohibition-themed bar, Rum Row, is right next to the pool, and we made our way over in search of something cold and refreshing. If you like rum, you’re in for a treat. Through the hotel’s partnership with the nearby First Legal Rum Distillery, special First Legal Rum is featured in the bar’s signature cocktails. We decided on Sloan’s Key Lime Pie, a drink that includes the aforementioned rum, fresh lime juice, condensed milk, cardamom liqueur, simple syrup, and an egg. It’s then shaken and served with whipped cream, and a crushed graham cracker and captain crunch rim. Yum! What else could be more Key West than this cocktail?

Sunset Green

With our body temp now a couple of degrees cooler, it was time to grab a bite to eat. We walked past the bar and through a gate to stumble upon Sunset Green, the 12,105-sq.-ft. event lawn and venue that is shared between The Gates and sister adjacent hotel, 24° North. I spotted a few cornhole games going on, and people taking advantage of the blue lounge chairs that sat on the grass. Besides cornhole, the space is used for other lawn games like bocce ball, and Frisbee, as well as for concerts, movie nights, and yoga classes. You can even rent out the space for your own event—later on in the evening I noticed staff working hard to set up tables and chairs for a wedding. 24northhotel.com

Right on Sunset Green is The Gates’ and 24° North’s shared food truck, The Blind Pig. The truck serves up a mix of Cuban, Bahamian, Caribbean, and Floridian tastes, with some of their dishes being shaved lamb sandwiches, shrimp tacos, chicken wings, angus burgers, pretzel bites, and chicken tenders. The Blind Pig even serves breakfast, with savory options like breakfast tacos, a Cuban egg press, and a Goat Cheese omelet. For lunch, I opted for the Local Fish Tacos which came with a lightly blackened fresh catch, fire-roasted vegetables, house-made Baja Remoulade, lime, and flour tortillas. The delectable fish was soft, and slightly crispy, and all of the zesty flavors of the Remoulade, lime, and vegetables excited my taste buds! After my satisfying lunch, it was time to explore the island!

“Key West’s Best Beach”
Civil War cannons at Fort Zachary Taylor State Park

My family and I decided to take a trip to Fort Zachary Taylor State Park, as per my dad’s enthusiastic suggestion. Its beach is deemed “Key West’s Best Beach” and as we arrived, I could see why. The beach was dreamy, with sugar white sand and crystal clear waters. I noticed a group of women getting ready to do some yoga on the beach, laying down their mats and stretching. The state park is not only famous for its beaches; it’s also home to Fort Taylor. This fortress was built in 1845, and was used during both the Civil War and the Spanish-American War, although it never saw any hostile action. Today, it’s open for guests to walk through, where you can check out the largest collection of Civil War cannons in the U.S.!

Our next adventure was a trip to the Sebago Watersports office to check-in for our Catamaran Champagne Sunset Sail. We arrived at their office at 6 p.m. to check-in, as boarding is at 6:15. The sail would last two hours, from 6:30 to 8:30, a perfect amount of time to drink, dance, and watch the sun set. After receiving our boarding passes, it was time to board! We were led onto The Marquesa catamaran, where we were introduced to our friendly and knowledgeable captain and crew. Then, we were off, and we were allowed to place our orders at the bar. Champagne, Sebago’s tropical home-made sangria, margaritas, beer, and boutique wine were all complimentary, and I didn’t hesitate to order some champagne—a Key West sunset is reason for celebration! Leaning on the railing staring out at the sky was therapeutic and stunning; the pinks, oranges, and blues faded into each other and reflected on the tame water, looking much like a Claude Monet painting. As the sun slowly set and music played, we took pictures, danced, stared out into the ocean, and poured more champagne. Once we made our way back to the pier and exited the catamaran, the crew members thanked us for coming aboard, and we thanked them—this had been an unforgettable experience! keywestsebago.com

Duval Street

After touching back on land, we were starving, so we headed to world-famous Duval Street in search of some seafood. The street is always packed, but that doesn’t diminish the charm. Gift shops, restaurants, bars, and vendors line the streets of Duval—whatever you’re looking for, whether that be The Oldest House (Built in 1829), The Littlest Bar in the World, or a Ripley’s Believe It or Not Odditorium, you will definitely find it here! Considering this, it was only right that we found exactly what we were looking for. D.J.’s Clam Shack is pretty modest in terms of size—it really is a shack with a window where you can order from—but make no mistake, this eatery serves up some of the best seafood on Duval. I opted for their famous Maine Lobster Roll, while my family ordered Mahi Mahi Tacos and Golden Fried Shrimp with Fries. We made our way to their cute back patio to await our dishes, and soon, our fresh seafood arrived. My Lobster Roll came with a side of coleslaw and a generous amount of their creamy, meaty lobster. It was smeared with light mayo and was stuffed and overflowing out of the sweet and soft roll—something I did not mind at all, being a lobster lover. My family echoed my sentiments when I expressed how much I was enjoying my dinner, and when I stole a couple of bites from their plates, I wished I had room for more! D.J.’s Clam Shack is simply a must-stop during your time in Key West. Full, exhausted, and wholly satisfied, my family and I retreated back to our hotel for a good night’s sleep.

Starbucks by the pool

The next morning, we woke up early to ensure that we could get some last minute rays in by the pool before checking out at 11 a.m. My mom and I, coffee addicts, appreciated the Starbucks that is part of the 24° North Hotel. If you show them that you’re staying at either The Gates or 24° North, you will receive a discount. Iced coffees in hand, we joined the rest of our family by the pool.

Next time I stay at The Gates, I’ll definitely rent a cabana. I noticed on my last day that a full-day rental comes with tons of amazing inclusions like butler service, a mini fridge, gourmet fruit pops, Rum Row punch, a fruit tray, and more.

As we melted away in the sun, so did the time, and next thing we knew, it was time to pack up and head home to Miami! We were sad to leave as the hotel had went beyond our expectations when it came to the staff, the ambience, the amenities, the food, and just about everything else. Luckily for us South Floridians, The Gates and Key West are simply a drive away. We will be back soon to explore even more of what both have to offer, while we continue to #UnlocktheKeys!

By Aaliyah Pasols